Only In This Summer─Kuzumanju, Japanese Summer Sweets
fiction, Jul. 2019
On one day of the rainy season (1), I came back to my parents’ house for the first time in a few years. It’s in Noto, the northwest part of Japan, where you can enjoy driving with views of the beautiful ocean and greenery.
As soon as I arrived at the house, my mother served me “kuzu-manju” with cold tea, one of my most favorite sweets.
Kuzu-manju is a sweet red-bean paste ban. Unlike a normal red-bean paste bun, it is covered with a starch powder made from the kuzu plant. It looks transparent and cool, so it’s summer sweet.
“We decided to close our shop.”
I was trying to cut the kuzu-manju with a toothpick, but I stopped because of my mother’s unexpected words.
Actually, this kuzu-manju is my father’s handmade, and he inherited the recipe from his father.
It’s a popular summer treat from my parent’s Japanese sweets shop, which they also took over from their parents and had run for a long time.
I couldn’t imagine my parent’s house, or my parents without the shop. I missed it.
However, my parents were already over 70, so I couldn’t say “Just run it longer.” Instead, I just said, “I see.”
“I don’t think that’s because you haven’t taken over our shop. You work for a good company in Tokyo, got married to a good man, and even have a pretty girl. You’ve been doing great so far, and I’m proud of you.
It’s just, me and your dad are now at a good age and we’ve been also working so hard till now, so we thought it would be enough.”
While listening to my mother, I looked around the living room slowly: an old cuckoo clock, a small TV, a low cupboard, a bookshelf full of recipe books with stains, etc.
It hadn’t changed even a little since I was a child. I always thought, “time seems to have stopped” every time I came back.
But I was wrong. Time has changed this living room, my parents and their shop.
When I was in high school, I never wanted to take over their shop. My parents wanted me to go to a Japanese-sweets cooking college, but I didn’t listen to them and went to a university in Tokyo.
At that time, I thought Japanese sweets were something very old-fashioned. I had eaten them since I was little, and I was sick of them.
In Tokyo, I worked very hard for a long-established apparel company as a contractor. Then, I took a promotion exam and now I work as a regular employee.
I’m dressed in fashionable clothes, go to real Southeast-Asian restaurants that I never found in Noto, and intended to be on the cutting edge.
For a long time, I’d always wanted to be different from an alternative myself, a daughter who was supposed to take over the old Japanese sweets shop.
However, after I got married and had my daughter, I finally could respect my parents, who had been working from the early morning for their family.
Now I knew that I didn’t do anything so far to help my father, who was stubborn and conservative but always very serious about his work, and my mother, who always kindly cared about me. And, I regretted that.
The kuzu-manju, which had a gentle taste of sweet red beans, like my father’s kindness, gradually melted in my mouth and disappeared. I overlapped it with the shop, which will disappear forever soon.
Now my father came to me while wiping his sweat with a towel. He seemed to have left the shop for a while and walked the corridor, which connected the shop and the house.
“When do you close the shop?”
My father narrowed his eyes and said, “until the end of this year.”
“Well, then, this summer is the last chance to eat kuzu-manju.”
“Right. I remember you like it the most.”
While talking with my father, my mother went out to the garden, cut the branches of hydrangea and put it in a bucket of water. Every year she grows it with much care, and this year it also blooms very beautifully.
Just as this hydrangea blooms in every rainy season in June, I’ve been thinking like my parents’ shop would last forever. But of course, I was wrong.
“What a beautiful hydrangea. If you send its branches to me to Tokyo, maybe I can see it every year too?”
I said it so that I can still have something that I “inherit” from them.
While getting back to Tokyo, I remembered the kuzu-manju which my mother served me. It was the last one from my parents maybe in my life.
Perhaps that was because it was tinged with the bitter-sweet sadness of the end of a family tradition.
However, my mom promised to send me her hydrangea so that I can grow and enjoy it every year, too. The end of a family tradition won’t mean the end of family connection, and we can always start new family tradition from now on.
1. In Japan, the rainy season mostly starts in June and ends in July. Usually, it lasts more than one month.
Kuzumanju in Tokyo:
Hanazono Manju in Shinjuku (open google map)
More info. about Noto:
Writer(Essay&short stories) / Studied Japanese literature at Sophia University, Tokyo. Grown Up in Wajima, Ishikawa and now lives in Toyama.
I like writing&cooking. I like tiny corners of everyday life in a north western Japanese local city, which I like to put into words that feel cozy for you.
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